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Knucklehead by Adam Smyer

I want to say a few things about the novel Knucklehead by Adam Smyer, published this year by Akashic. The novel could not be more timely, and I urge everyone who has found their way to my blog to buy a copy and read it.

The novel is the diary of a black man whose law degree and loving wife and fancy job can’t shield him from a culture where he is continuously demeaned and threatened because of his race.

The writing in this novel is very loose. There is a casualness about the prose that is both endearing and distancing–it’s a style where you never know what the narrator is going to do or say next. In one scene after another the protagonist continues a debate with himself, the debate of his lifetime, about whether¬†this¬†is the time when he’ll resort to deadly violence to solve his problems. From moment to moment he relies on some outward sign that will give him permission to unleash his rage, and you keep expecting him to do great harm to someone, and at the same time you are kind of rooting for him to go ahead and do it, given the horrible things that happen to him, and given how dismissively he is treated even by those who supposedly love him.

The perpetual threat of violence, in almost every scene, was a very uncomfortable place for me to be as a reader, but an instructive one. I finished the book with a terrific headache, and I felt it was exactly the right way to feel about what happens in the story, both in terms of the real historical events it documents, and in terms of the fictional journey the main character takes from beginning to end. The chapter about the 1991 beating of Rodney King that was captured on video–a time when everyone was briefly filled with the hope that finally something would change, now that the evidence of police brutality was there for all to see–is heartbreaking to read given where we are now.

Now that I’ve written all of the above I also want to add that at times this is a very funny book. It’s a remarkable book. You should go in open-eyed and open-minded and see what happens.

Here is a link to the Akashic website where it’s currently $11.95:



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